Updated: May 21, 2020
With so many Werewolf variants out there and with the success of games like Secret Hitler, you’d be forgiven for thinking there can’t be much room in the market for yet more social deduction games.
You’d be wrong, of course. The social deduction games keep on coming and most bring to the table enough novelty to keep players coming back for more. That’s the case here with Salem 1692 from Facade Games.
In this game, players each represent townsfolk from 17th Century Salem, Massachusetts. The game plays up to 12, and each player’s character has a special ability. Depending on the number of players, there will be one or two Tryal cards that indicate a player is a witch. All the other Tryal cards will say ‘not a witch’. These cards are all shuffled and dealt out so that each player has cards face down in front of them (the number for each player varies with the player count: five cards with 4–7 players, four with 8–9, three with 10–12).
Players can look at and will know what is on the Tryal cards in front of them. In turn, players can either draw or play from a separate pack of cards that mostly allow accusations to be made. When a player has seven accusations levelled against them, they must reveal one of their Tryal cards… When a player has all their Tryal cards exposed, then they are dead. That means they are out of the game.
Any player who has a witch card is a witch, regardless of what their other Tryal cards say. Townsfolk are seeking to expose the witch. The witch is seeking to avoid exposure and will be trying to kill off other players. At various times in the game, players will each have to take a Tryal card (face down) from their neighbour. If they find they’ve taken a witch card, then they too are a witch (and the original witch remains a witch even though they no longer have a witch card).
When ‘night’ falls, players all close their eyes and the witches can choose a player to kill. Players don’t know who the witches are attempting to kill. They can save themselves from the possibility that they have been selected by voluntarily revealing one of their Tryal cards. Of course, that also brings them a step closer to mortality…
There is perhaps less to actually go on in this game than in many other social deduction games: more guesswork than deduction. Despite this, Salem 1629 is great fun to play. Suspicions are bandied back and forth as players seize on the slightest excuse to point the finger at each other. There is scope for a bit of role play for those who want to really inhabit their townsfolk characters and the increasing likelihood that the witchery may be spreading adds to the existential threat that non-witch players feel.
That’s not to say there aren’t downsides to this game. It’s a game where players are eliminated, so you could find you are out quite early and have nothing to do until the game is over. It’s a game that’s best with higher numbers but it can be awkward accommodating successfully the manipulation of tokens required of the witches while others have their eyes closed. You need to have players make a noise so the witches’ movement, and that of the Constable (who I haven't mentioned), doesn’t identify them.
I can’t comment on Salem 1692 without drawing attention to the packaging. The cards come inside a beautifully designed magnet-lidded box that looks for all the world like a 17th Century Bible or similar tome from the period. Full marks for production here. Indeed, the box looks so much like an old book that, when you open it and pull out cards from within, you must expect others to suspect there is witchcraft is at work…